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Rumors say that AMD's next generation APU, code named "Trinity", should arrive tomorrow, at least for laptops. Like it's predecessor Llano, Trinity is primarily aimed at laptops. Trinity will have four "Piledriver" cores split into two modules, as well as a 384 shader graphics engine, together in a single chip.
On the processor side, Piledriver is the next generation version of Bulldozer cores. That means AMD can take what they learned from what went wrong with Bulldozer and try to fix it in Piledriver. Architecture improvements of the sort that we saw when moving from the Phenom to the Phenom II are entirely plausible. The transition from the Phenom to the Phenom II also included a new process node. Trinity is on the same process node as Llano, but it's a now mature process, rather than the inaugural product on what was then a rather troubled process.
The problem for Llano was that the processor was rather slower than you'd want. At launch, the top 35 W bin, the A8-3500M, had a base clock speed of only 1.5 GHz, and even with turbo core, only went up to 2.4 GHz. Moving to 45 W bins only pushed the latter number up to 2.6 GHz. If you needed good single-threaded performance, Llano simply didn't deliver it.
Rumors say that the top 35 W bin of Trinity, the A10-4600M, will have a stock clock of 2.3 GHz and a max turbo boost of 3.2 GHz. IPC matters, too, but if Trinity matches Llano's IPC, then that could realistically offer processor performance good enough for everything on the market. Trinity isn't likely to catch a Core i7-2630QM in performance, but might not be all that far behind. That's Sandy Bridge, not Ivy Bridge--but recall that Sandy Bridge was genuinely good enough for gaming, not merely the best available that gamers could afford.
Llano had the problem that, if you didn't want the integrated graphics, then you didn't want Llano, period, as the processor just wasn't fast enough to justify buying. Trinity will still have the integrated graphics as a major selling point, but if it can match or beat Llano IPC with those clock speeds, then Trinity+Cape Verde will make a ton of sense for a ~$1000 gaming laptop. Trinity+Pitcairn could even make some sense as a high end gaming laptop.
Speaking of which, Trinity has integrated graphics onboard, and that's also a major upgrade from Llano. Trinity is VLIW4, like Cayman, so 384 shaders in Trinity means 6 SIMD engines, whereas 400 shaders in Llano meant only 5 SIMD engines. The A10-4600M is rumored to clock the GPU at 686 MHz, too, as compared to only 444 MHz for even the 45 W A8-3530MX. That should bring huge improvements in graphical performance, provided that there is adequate memory bandwidth to feed it.
And that's a huge caveat. Llano was pretty sensitive to memory bandwidth. With a much stronger GPU and the same memory bandwidth available, Trinity will likely be far more so. And OEMs did a horrible job of supplying memory to Llano. Not only did they pretty much never use 1600 MHz memory, but sometimes, they'd only use 1066 MHz. Often, they'd mismatch the memory channels. Sometimes they'd even leave one vacant entirely. That's fixable by an end user, but still, they shouldn't have to.
I think that AMD ought to come up with some marketing buzzword that means a Trinity APU with high clocked memory and the channels properly matched, and then have a marketing campaign trying to tell people, this is what you want. Tell OEMs that they can only use whatever the sticker is if they do the memory configuration right (say, properly matched channels and at least 1333 MHz for lower bins of Trinity, and 1600 MHz for the top bin). That would be more meaningful than their spider platform or dragon platform or whatever they're on now. Maybe they could reappropriate their "Vision" marketing blather to actually be meaningful.
While Trinity is very much focused on laptops, it will come to desktops as well. Rumors say that tomorrow's launch is laptop-only, with desktop parts to come later. Will Trinity make sense in desktops?
On the processor side, rumors put the top bin at 3.8 GHz base and 4.2 GHz turbo. With probable IPC improvements over Bulldozer cores, that should mean a processor that handily crushes an FX-4100, even if the IPC difference is small. The odds that Trinity catches a Core i5-3570K in processor performance are very slim, however. So you won't want Trinity in a high end gaming desktop.
But that still leaves two desktop markets potentially open to Trinity: people who will use a discrete card and want something cheaper than Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge, and people who will use the integrated graphics for gaming. Llano had only the latter available to it.
Will Trinity plus a discrete card make sense? Unlike in laptops, being able to shut down the discrete card and use the integrated graphics to save power while you're not gaming doesn't matter much. Indeed, losing several percentage points on gaming performance because you have to copy everything the discrete card does over to the integrated graphics frame buffer in order to display it would make this undesirable, even if you can do it.
But here, it depends on how Trinity is priced. If top bin desktop Trinity plus a decent motherboard costs just as much as an Ivy Bridge quad core, then no. You want a Core i5-3570K, not an A10-something or other. If it's the same price as an FX-4100, then yes, Trinity would make a lot of sense. You want Trinity, not an FX-4100. Exactly how high the price on Trinity could go and make sense in this market depends on precisely how good it is, but I'm guessing that the highest that it would make sense is somewhere around $130 or $150.
I would like to see some desktop Trinity APUs with an unlocked processor multiplier and crippled graphics. There was a bin of Llano that disabled the graphics entirely. I hope that AMD doesn't take the approach of, much of the graphics didn't work, so we're going to cripple the processor, too. If the processor side of the chip is perfectly fine, but the graphics side is problematic, then sell it to someone who wants it for a desktop where he won't use the integrated graphics, anyway.
There's also the market for ultra-cheap gaming desktops with integrated graphics. While you could do this with Llano, it had the problem that the processor wasn't terribly powerful. Upgrading the processor later would mean replacing the graphics (because it's in the same chip) and motherboard (Trinity is Socket FM2, while Llano was FM1), which wasn't a good option. Trinity will let you get a far more viable processor, which should give the system a lot more longevity.
But for a part to go in the low budget market depends tremendously on how it's priced. Furthermore, you don't necessarily need the top bin of Llano, but you do want a pretty high bin with everything fully functional if you're going to rely on the integrated graphics for gaming. Can Trinity with 1600 MHz memory come in cheaper than a cheaper but otherwise comparable processor, 1333 MHz memory, and a $60 discrete card? That depends on how AMD prices it, but I think it will.
Trinity could also be a very nifty part for small form (e.g., Mini ITX) "desktops". The trouble with a small form factor is that it's hard to dissipate the heat. With only one major heat source, Trinity could fit into a small space and make it easy to clear out the heat. If you're comparing Trinity to a cheaper processor plus a $60 video card, Trinity could end up an easy winner in small form factors just on the basis that it's easier to cool.